Published: Nov. 4, 2022

From Business at Leeds 2022 | Full issue

Two alumni and veterans stand on a cliff overlooking Boulder.

When it came to building networks that could launch their careers, Harrison GreenMaki, left, and Michael Mendoza both felt the Leeds MBA was the way to go. The two veterans met through the program and are now both in real estate—and hoping to find ways to work together, exploring career paths the way they love to explore hiking trails. 

The skills and perspective needed to lead in business keep changing. Leeds continues to evolve its MBA portfolio to stay on the cutting edge. 

Colette Crouse has worn a lot of hats in the world of sustainability, including director-level roles in the technology and real estate sectors. 

Prior to her MBA from Leeds, her roles were mainly in communications and engagement, including with the City of Boulder’s climate initiatives department. At Leeds, she sought to expand her skillset and perspective, with the goal of repositioning herself as a change agent and leader in the corporate sector. 

“For me, the Leeds MBA was the ticket to working in a more strategic, analytical role in the private sector,” Crouse (MBA’18) said. “I wanted to bring more quantitative rigor to what I was doing, to be able to understand the data and use it to make better decisions.”

Crouse is now director of carbon services at Stok, which offers integrated sustainability and high-performance building services. 

“My role draws heavily on both my communications and business skills, which I love,” she said. “For many clients, we quantify climate impacts while also supporting communications and reporting, stakeholder engagement and financial planning.” 

Faces of Leeds: Meet Colette Crouse

She’s using the skills she gained from her MBA to advise companies globally recognized as corporate climate leaders, as well as those “that understand the value of climate work, but are relatively new to it,” she said. “Among other services, we provide value to clients by offering guidance in a complex space that’s quickly evolving.”

And it’s not just sustainability that’s changing. Work across industries is quickly evolving, as advances in technology, changes wrought by the pandemic, geopolitical instability and other forces require agility, flexibility and creativity, as well as leadership skills and business acumen.

That’s true of MBA programs, as well. 

Confronting the challenges of change

In the digital age, the MBA has found itself challenged by competing offerings—from MOOCs (massive open online courses) like EdX and Coursera, to LinkedIn Learning and even YouTube. At Leeds, however, faculty have leveraged their close connections to industry to offer a more versatile credential that’s designed to encourage success throughout a career. That’s taken the form of heightened emphasis on guest lectures as well as aggressively updated course content.

MORE: How graduate scholarships create career-defining opportunities

“Organizations have such a need for thinkers who have both breadth and depth in business expertise,” said Kristi Ryujin, associate dean for graduate programs at Leeds and special assistant to the dean for faculty diversity, equity and inclusion. “In redesigning our curricula, we met with 60-plus corporate partners, who told us about their long-term needs and how we could help meet them. The overarching theme was one of wanting students who are able to flex—who are experienced enough to be confident when they’re pushed in a new direction.” 

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“In redesigning our curricula, we met with 60-plus corporate partners ... the overarching theme was one of wanting students who are able to flex.”

Kristi Ryujin, associate dean for graduate programs and special assistant to the dean for faculty DEI

Learning how to think critically about problems, faculty and alumni said, is a major advantage of the MBA. Whereas online programs focus mainly on skill development, Leeds classes—and the co-curricular components, like guest lectures, cases, networking events, consulting opportunities and competitions—emphasize the combination of skills and knowledge in ways that mimic the challenges students will face as leaders. 

MORE: Which MBA is the best fit for me?

“Leeds is known for entrepreneurship, so a lot of people who want to start businesses flock to our programs,” Ryujin said. “But whether you become an entrepreneur or not, there’s so much value in being able to look at a problem and figure out how to solve it in a creative and open-ended way, where you’re not constrained by the limits of a big organization. That kind of direction is just as important to a Fortune 100 as it is to a startup.” 

From Marines to MBA

Why an MBA?
For many, the MBA experience is far preferred to online alternatives or self-guided upskilling programs. Alumni share their top reasons for choosing an MBA.

New directions are why Michael Mendoza (MBA’22) chose an MBA instead of a different upskilling opportunity. Mendoza separated from the U.S. Marine Corps after nearly six years, ending his time as a captain stationed in Savannah, Georgia. He relocated to Colorado and began the Leeds MBA while transitioning out of the military.

“For me, the MBA represented a way to transition back into civilian life while also polishing my business skills,” said Mendoza, who won a nationwide case competition as a student and now serves as a partner at Philadelphia-based Forterra Investment Partners, founded by Daniel Markee (Fin’80). “My MBA has made me more confident in starting this next chapter with the new skills learned and projects worked on, first tested at my internship as a student. It’s refreshing to see that a lot of what I’ve learned in the classroom, I’ve been able to apply in the real world.”

Crouse and Mendoza both completed the full-time MBA program, but as digital alternatives have sprung up and virtual work has become more mainstream, Leeds has added to its MBA portfolio. The school added hybrid and executive versions of the program last year to go with its full-time and evening programs

While the hybrid MBA is designed to offer the ultimate in flexibility, it still includes on-campus components, including in-person sessions on select Saturdays.

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“Going to classes in person helps me create that network ... those Saturday sessions are pivotal in building lasting relationships. ”

Jennifer Jamieson (MBA’23), co-owner, Personal Touch Landscape & Gardening

“An important part of the experience is the relationships you develop—not only your business network, but friendships,” Ryujin said. “We see students who share career opportunities with one another, but who are also in each other’s weddings. You can’t build relationships of such depth and meaning if you’re just watching a how-to video.”

That’s exactly what brought Jennifer Jamieson (MBA’23) to the hybrid program. She started at Leeds after her husband, a former military pilot, completed his own MBA. She didn’t want the fully virtual experience he had after COVID moved all his classes online, but when the couple bought a landscaping business—with an eye on future acquisitions—Jamieson wanted the perspectives and network that only an MBA can offer.

The hybrid MBA was the perfect solution, especially as the couple live in Colorado Springs with their four children, making regular commutes to Boulder impractical. 

“It’s easier to maintain relationships online than it is to start them,” she said. “Going to classes in person helps me create that network, and even though 99% of our interactions are online or over the phone, those Saturday sessions are pivotal in building lasting relationships.”

Colette, in a red dress, looks out over the Denver skyline from the roof of her building.

Colette Crouse stands on the roof of Stok’s downtown Denver office. ‘The Leeds MBA was the ticket to working in a more strategic, analytical role in the private sector,’ she says.

Beyond relationships between peers, an MBA affords students relationships with mentors who offer invaluable guidance about how to leverage their academic work in securing jobs, but also in how to advocate for a promotion or negotiate salary at a new job. Crouse has stayed in touch with her mentor—in fact, they were residential and professional neighbors who often rode the bus to Denver together. 

“I continue to reach out to her when I’m struggling with difficult decisions, or looking for strategic input,” said Crouse, now an MBA mentor herself. “I want to be that person for others—someone who can offer practical career or industry advice. It’s also important to me that I leverage my experience and position to support individuals from traditionally underrepresented backgrounds in advancing their careers in the corporate sustainability space, which hasn’t traditionally been diverse or inclusive.” 

Business at Leeds magazine  Leeds MBA programs  Engage with Leeds

Breadth Meets Depth

Part of the MBA’s versatility comes from the breadth of business knowledge the program covers—from accounting and strategy, to marketing and finance—but Leeds students also often seek industry depth to give them a head start on either a career transition or greater leadership responsibilities in their chosen field when they graduate. 

The Leeds MBA offers a series of concentrations—called pathways—that combine coursework with co-curricular programs, clubs and other exploratory avenues, ensuring that graduates speak the language of the industry they’re entering and have a strong network of professionals they can tap in seeking opportunities and advice on the job. 

At Leeds, MBA students can choose from pathways in clean energy and natural and organic products—both Boulder-area mainstays—as well as high-growth ventures and real estate. 

“What makes the pathways so valuable is how we’ve built them alongside our industry partners,” said Kristi Ryujin, associate dean for graduate programs. “This benefits our students no matter what they do, because it further challenges them to apply their classroom learning in new ways and helps them forge important relationships.